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Hurry-Up Offense Work Highlights Thursday AM Practice

Posted by Mike Wobschall on August 5, 2010 – 11:11 am

Although they weren’t fully padded up and there was no tackling to the ground, Vikings players were competing about as hard as you’ll see during a training camp practice on Thursday morning and it was a delight to watch. Vikings Head Coach Brad Childress had his squad working on game-ending and hurry-up situations, which ramped up the competitive atmosphere and probably provided some great tape for the coaches to go in and digest early this afternoon.

In 2009, the Vikings had 2 game-winning drives on offense and 1 game-winning drive on defense. The game-winning offensive drives came in Week 3 against the San Francisco 49ers (Brett Favre to Greg Lewis ring a bell?) and then in Week 6 against the Baltimore Ravens (Longwell 31-yard FG), and the game-winning drive on defense also came in the Baltimore game when the Ravens were forced to try a 44-yard FG to pull out a win.

“A good little segment today,” Childress said in his opening remarks while meeting with the media after practice. “A couple of two-minute situations that we faced here in the last four or five years. You can’t get enough of that work and just as we reviewed last night, the teams that are coming one way to beat us or we were trying to go one way to beat somebody else, games in this league come down to that quite frequently.”

The first 2-minute situation called upon the 1st-team offense to drive from their own 37-yardline in 2 minutes with 2 timeouts, needing a TD to win the game. Tarvaris Jackson guided the offense down the field and a laser to TE Visanthe Shiancoe put the offense right around the 10-yardline. Jackson hurried the offense down the field to kill the clock, and then with time for 1 final play Jackson hit WR Greg Lewis in the endzone for the TD.

The second 2-minute situation charged the 2nd-team offense with driving from the 80-yardline with 2 minutes to go and 2 timeouts, needing a FG to win. On the 1st play of the series, the play was blown dead because of a sack and loss of 10 yards. Three plays later on 4th down, LB Ben Leber broke up a pass but was called for pass interference, which extended the drive. Another pass interference call several plays later pushed the offense into scoring range and K Rhys Lloyd ultimately came on to split the uprights on a 48-yard FG as time expired.

“Any situation we deal with (in practice), we want to make it game-like,” Jackson told me after practice. “We want to make it as close to the real game as possible so when you get in that situation it’s not new to us.”

A few other notes from this morning’s practice…

– During the early parts of practice, the offense installed its hurry-up package and all 3 teams had an opportunity to execute it against air. Not surprisingly, Jackson looked the most comfortable of the 3 QBs during the drill, Rosenfels was not quite as comfortable and rookie QB Joe Webb struggled the most.

– NFL officials joined the team for practice this morning and will be with the team over the next couple of days. I’m sure this is a common ritual around the league and it’s something the Vikings have done every year under Childress. The officials work with the players and coaches during practice answering questions or pointing out points of emphasis for the coming season; they even call penalties during the team portions of practice.

“We invite those guys into all of our meetings at night and we don’t have any secrets,” Childress said. “If they’ll share with our people – how they’re looking at things and how they’re calling things – it’s their expertise so we don’t make it a closed-door affair. It’s an inclusive deal and they can jump in with offensive linemen, or the secondary, or the wide receivers, wherever they can get better. We’re glad to have them here.”

– One of the Vikings “special categories” periods of practice was an all 3rd-down session. The 1st team offense picked up 1st downs on 3 of 4 plays, the 2nd team was 2 for 4 and the 1st team was 1 for 4.

– I watched the defensive line vs. the offensive line during the 1-on-1 period of practice. Individuals who stood out while winning their 1-on-1 battle were: C Ryan Cook, DT Fred Evans, DT Letroy Guion, LG Steve Hutchinson, LT Bryant McKinnie and DE Brian Robison.

– There was a spirited session of the inside skeleton passing drill between the LBs/Ss and RBs/TEs. In the final matchup of the drill, LB Chad Greenway went up against Shiancoe. Greenway forced an incompletion and the LB group broke out in over-emphasized rejoice to chide Shiancoe. As the players began running away to the next drill, Childress held everyone up and asked for Greenway and Shiancoe to have a rematch. So the 2 players lined up again, this time with the whole team present to watch. At the snap, Shiancoe made a nice move on Greenway to release from the line of scrimmage and wiggled his way open. But Greenway didn’t quit and was able to catch up to Shiancoe and rip the ball from his arms to force another incompletion. The LB group broke out in cheers again and Shiancoe took it very well. It was a fun part of practice and a great display of competitiveness.

– Players who were out of action today included: WR Percy Harvin (personal), WR Sidney Rice (PUP), CB Benny Sapp (illness), CB Cedric Griffin (PUP), RB Darius Reynaud (leg), RB Adrian Peterson (leg) and LB J Leman (leg).

– With Harvin and Rice experiencing extended time away from camp, WR Greg Lewis has gotten reps exclusively with the 1st team offense and he’s taking advantage of the situation by making a positive impression on Childress. When asked about Lewis’ performance so far during camp, Childress referred to Lewis as a “jack of all trades” and a “crafty” player at his position.

– Childress was also asked about DT Letroy Guion and the kind of camp he’s having. Here was his response: “He’s had a good camp. He looks like he’s matured. He came in a couple pounds heavy, but nothing to write home about. I think that’s probably balanced out. I think he understands more about what we’re doing and what we’re asking of him defensively. I think he’s doing a better job rushing the passer and he’s always been stout in the run game.

– The offensive line has looked much better the past 2 days with C John Sullivan back in the fold.


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Vikings Conclude A Highlight-Filled Practice #2

Posted by Mike Wobschall on July 31, 2010 – 11:38 am

Practice #2 of 2010 Verizon Vikings Training Camp was highlight-filled, as the squad begins to hit full stride here in Mankato in preparation for the upcoming season. The team practiced for approximately 2 hours in warm and partly cloudy conditions.

All 3 Vikings coordinators held press conferences following practice, so stay tuned for quotes and comments from that. Also, CJ got together with LB Jasper Brinkley and will have a report on him and the Vikings defense later today.

Tonight is Football and Fireworks Night at Verizon Vikings Training Camp, as the team will practice under the lights from 7:00 p.m. to 8:55 p.m. and then fans will be entertained with a fireworks display right after practice.

Let’s run through a few highlights from this morning’s practice…

– You’ve heard the expression “Welcome to the NFL, rookie” several times in the past. The expression typically represents a moment when an NFL rookie experiences a “wake up” call during practice, usually a big hit that jars them a bit. Rookie RB Toby Gerhart got his “Welcome to the NFL” moment today…a couple times. DT Pat Williams got him first after the RB caught a pass in the right flats and then Brinkley jolted Gerhart a few plays later as he waited to catch another pass. Neither hit was malicious and Gerhart wasn’t the least bit shaken up by them, but it did generate a reaction from the crowd and you know that Williams and Brinkley got a little joy out of the moment.

– There is a drill called the “inside skeleton” where QBs, RBs and TEs work together in a passing exercise against LBs and Ss. In the early part of an inside skeleton drill, both Chad Greenway and Ben Leber stepped in front of passes to nab INTs. Greenway’s came off of rookie Joe Webb and Leber’s came off of veteran Sage Rosenfels. But Rosenfels bounced back right away to complete a pair of nice passes, the first to TE Garrett Mills over Jamarca Sanford and the next one to RB Darius Reynaud over LB Heath Farwell.

– Speaking of Reynaud, the converted RB ran with the 3rd team offense primarily today, with Gerhart and 3-year veteran Albert Young rotating between the 1st and 2nd teams. It’s too early to glean much off of the rotations right now, but it’s certainly worth keeping an eye on.

– While we’re on the topic of depth charts, one spot I’m curious to watch develop during training camp and the preseason is DT. This morning, Fred Evans and Jimmy Kennedy took the most reps with the 2nd team defense.

– CB Antoine Winfield generated some laughs from the crowd this morning. He was standing on the sidelines while WR Greg Lewis and CB Marcus Sherels went head-to-head in the 1-on-1 portion of practice. Lewis and Sherels got locked up right off the line of scrimmage at the snap and eventually Sherels was on the ground and Lewis was running away with a reception. Seeing Sherels thrown to the ground, Winfield tossed his sweat towel in the air to signify a pass interference penalty flag, right in front of the bleachers off of field #1. The crowd got a kick out of it.

– Later during 1-on-1s, CB Lito Sheppard locked up WR Marko Mitchell with an impressive display of press coverage and DeAndre Wright made a nice play on a deep pass down the left sideline that was intended for Logan Payne.

– One of the most impressive offensive plays of the day came when QB Tarvaris Jackson threaded the needle on a pass to TE Visanthe Shiancoe down the right seam during 7-on-7 work.

– And finally, during team work near the end of practice, S Husain Abdullah stepped in front of a Jackson pass to notch an INT. On the play, Jackson executed a play-action fake and then bootlegged to the right. He slipped and tried to get a pass out to the flats anyway, but Abdullah was there to jump the route and pick off the pass.


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Childress, Spielman Talk Tomlinson

Posted by Mike Wobschall on March 10, 2010 – 5:53 pm

Many times when a free agent visits with a prospective NFL team, said team doesn’t allow said free agent to leave the building without a contract. With free agent RB LaDainian Tomlinson visiting the Vikings this week, some are under the assumption that the Vikings and Tomlinson won’t part ways until a deal has been reached.

But both Vikings Head Coach Brad Childress and VP of Player Personnel Rick Spielman, while speaking with reporters at Wednesday’s University of Minnesota pro day, didn’t sound as if they were operating under such an assumption. While they are no doubt interested in the idea of adding Tomlinson to their roster (which is why they’re visiting with him), they’re just as insistent that they do their homework before making a decision.

“We’re just going through our process,” Spielman explained. “He was a guy out there that we felt was a viable option and we’ll go ahead and have him come in; we’ll visit with him and just see where things are. It’s just a normal process that we go through.”

Among the topics that will likely be addressed during Tomlinson’s visit, aside from money and length of contract, are surely Tomlinson’s specific role in the Vikings offense and as a veteran on a team that went 12-4 last year along the way to the NFC Championship Game.

“I think probably he’s coming in and touching and tasting us, and we’re doing the same thing to see where his mind’s at,” Childress, who talked to Tomlinson on Wednesday, said. “It’s a little bit of both. Does the situation fit him? I’m sure he wants to know what our vision is for him. And then our sense for him. Will he fit? From a mindset standpoint, from a physical standpoint, from a system standpoint.”

Childress indicated that part of the Vikings decision-making process as it relates to Tomlinson is to turn to resources who might be familiar with the 5-time Pro Bowler, such as LB Ben Leber (a teammate of LT’s in San Diego), G Steve Hutchinson (who shares an agent with LT) and also Chargers Head Coach Norv Turner.

Both Childress and Spielman commented on Wednesday that LT has gas remaining in the tank, even after a 9-year career in San Diego that saw him carry the ball 2,880 times. If both sides like what they here this week while meeting with one another, LT may be driving the rock with Peterson for the Vikings in 2010.


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By Sack Or By Bat-Down, Vikings D-Line Will Be Key

Posted by Mike Wobschall on January 23, 2010 – 11:22 am

The Vikings last week faced a Dallas Cowboys team that finished the regular season ranked as the NFL’s 6th best passing offense, a unit that included the NFC’s leading receiver in Miles Austin and a versatile TE in Jason Witten who registered 94 receptions on the season.

Thanks to a fierce pass rush from the Vikings 4 down linemen – including 3.0 sacks from DE Ray Edwards – the Vikings were able to drop 7 defenders in coverage for much of the game. This tactic allowed the Vikings LBs and secondary to cover up QB Tony Romo’s options for much of the game and it ultimately resulted in just 156 net yards of passing for the Cowboys, their lowest output since Week 11 at Washington and their 3rd lowest output of the entire season.

Along with the Vikings defensive line, other players had key roles in the Vikings ability to shutdown the Dallas passing attack. LB Ben Leber had an INT, CB Benny Sapp played well on the outside while Antoine Winfield handled nickel duties superbly and 2nd-year S Tyrell Johnson logged a solid performance.

“Yeah, I didn’t see any pauses,” Vikings Head Coach Brad Childress said of Johnson. “I thought he was pretty fluid. He knew what he was seeing and did a great job of reacting on time. He played a pretty good football game.”

The Vikings face a similar challenge this weekend, although the New Orleans Saints represent a taller task. QB Drew Brees has guided the NFL’s 4th-rated pass offense beautifully, leading the NFL in TD passes during the regular season with 34 and also registering a league-high passer rating of 109.6.

“He knows that offense like the back of his hand,” Childress said of the New Orleans QB. “It is hard to catch him in the pocket and he usually hits his back foot and lets the ball go. He is passionate about what he does. He understands that offense’s movements. He is an anticipatory thrower.”

Adding to the challenge for Minnesota is that they’ll be playing on the road instead of at Mall of America Field, where a raucous home crowd provides an adverse environment for opposing offenses.

It will be key for the Vikings to apply pressure to Brees with their 4 down linemen because this will allow them to drop 7 in coverage, just as they did against the Dallas. And even if the Vikings defensive line can’t get to Brees  for sacks – Brees was sacked just 20 times during the regular season, 14 fewer times than Brett Favre – it’s will be vital for them to get their hands in passing lanes. The Vikings did lead the league in sacks during the regular season with 48, but the defensive line also batted down 17 passes.

One way or another, whether by sacking Brees or batting down his passes, the Vikings defensive line must once again be a factor if the Vikings are going to slow down another productive passing attack.


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Scoring 7s, Not 3s

Posted by Mike Wobschall on January 22, 2010 – 10:20 am

Anyone with a rooting interest in the Vikings came away from last weekend’s Divisional Playoff game against the Cowboys with positive feelings, and rightfully so. The Vikings registered a complete team win, playing well in all 3 phases of the game along to a 34-3 victory.

But as any perfectionist of NFL player/coach will tell you, there’s always room for improvement. And that is especially the case when you’re preparing for the a conference championship game, where even the slightest flaw might be the difference between suiting up in the Super Bowl or suiting up for an offseason on the beach.

One area that could turn out to be crucial on Sunday is turnovers and, specifically, getting points off of turnovers. Considering the Saints and Vikings had the league’s highest-scoring offenses, respectively, adding extra points by scoring them off of turnovers could be a significant factor.

And therein lies a potential area of improvement for the Vikings coming off their seemingly flawless victory over Dallas. The Vikings turned Dallas over 3 times last Sunday – 2 fumbles and 1 INT – but they were only able to tally 6 points off of those 3 turnovers.

The Vikings recovered a fumble in the 1st quarter on their own 35, but a sack on 3rd down led them to a 3-and-out, which resulted in a punt. Dallas lost another  fumble in the 2nd quarter giving the Vikings possession on the Dallas 20. But a negative run and then a penalty resulted in a Ryan Longwell FG. Finally, Dallas was intercepted by LB Ben Leber in the 4th quarter but a 3-and-out series from the Cowboys 15 resulted in another FG.

So the Vikings wound up with just 6 points off of 3 turnovers, 2 of which gave them possession inside the red zone.

Those are numbers that must be improved if the Vikings are to upset the Saints this weekend at the Louisiana Superdome. And offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell indicated as much on Thursday while meeting with reporters.

“I think it’s huge,” Bevell responded when asked about scoring TDs instead of FGs inside the red zone. “It’s a game where you have the two highest scoring teams, so you know both teams are going to put points on the board…Any time we get down there and have opportunities to get points, you want to be able to make them seven.

“Obviously, if you can get three, you want to continue to get them, but seven points will be big in this game.”

By the way, the Vikings scored TDs on 62.3% of their red zone trips during the 2009 regular season, a rate that was 3rd best in the NFL. They also led the NFL with 43 red zone TDs and with 27 red zone passing TDs.


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Vikings Defense Cools Cowboys Offense

Posted by Mike Wobschall on January 18, 2010 – 6:49 am

The Dallas Cowboys came into Sunday’s Divisional Round Playoff game as one of the hottest teams in the NFL with one of the most explosive offenses in the NFL.

In their 2 previous games heading into Sunday’s contest, Dallas had scored 58 points against the Philadelphia Eagles. And in their last 4 games, the Cowboys averaged 433.0 yards and 24.8 points per contest.

With a confident and in-rhythm QB – Tony Romo – playing behind a massive offensive line and with a talented group of pass-catchers, Dallas was poised to continue their hot streak against the Vikings and setup a rematch with the New Orleans Saints, the very team they beat back on December 19 to begin their 4-game winning streak.

But then something happened. And that something was the Vikings defense, a unit that put on a stunning performance in holding the explosive Cowboys to just 3 points and only 248 net yards of offense. With the Vikings offense matching the excellence of the defense, Sunday’s game turned into a lopsided affair – a 34-3 Vikings victory.

“We knew it was going to be a battle all four quarters, and for the most part it was,” LB Ben Leber said immediately after the game. “I never imagined it would be this lopsided.  You have to give a lot of credit to their offense.  They came in a high-powered offense, explosive.  We thought it was going to be a big-time dogfight, and we did a good job holding them to three points.

So what was the key to the Vikings defensive dominance? There were probably a number of factors, beginning with the Vikings ability to pressure Romo. The Cowboys QB was sacked 6 times and hurried or hit on many more occasions.

Another reason, though, was the Vikings ability to limit Dallas’ explosive plays. The Vikings definition of an explosive play is a run of 12+yards and a pass of 16+ yards. The Cowboys, one of the NFL’s most explosive teams over the past month, had just 3 explosive plays on Sunday (2 passes, 1 run).

Key in the defense’s ability to limit Dallas explosiveness was sound coverage and technique, as well as solid tackling.

“You obviously never want to have guys get behind the coverage and make big plays,” Leber explained, “but secondly, we did a good job of keeping everything in front of us.  We did a good job of tackling and not having many explosive plays against us.  The game plan worked, and we executed pretty well.”

Leber makes a good point. Players on the field did their job by executing the scheme and making plays. But there’s a reason coaches put in so much time during the week.

“That’s a credit to (defensive coordinator) Leslie Frazier and the whole defensive coaching staff,” Vikings CB Benny Sapp said. “They came in this week and were real tough on us. They knew Dallas was a big-play team. We wanted to erase that off the field today, and that’s what we did.”


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Vikings Dominate Cowboys 34-3, Advance To Championship Game

Posted by Mike Wobschall on January 17, 2010 – 3:05 pm

The Vikings have advanced to the NFC Championship Game for a showdown against the top-seeded New Orleans Saints after defeating the Dallas Cowboys by a score of 34-3 at Mall of America Field on Sunday.

Next week’s conference championship game will be played at the Superdome in New Orleans at 5:40 CT.

QB Brett Favre and WR Sidney Rice torched the Cowboys secondary, connecting 3 times for TDs and pacing the 34-point offensive output. Favre was 15 of 24 for 234 yards and 4 TDs on the afternoon, a performance that generated a 134.4 passer rating. Rice had 6 receptions for 141 yards and the 3 scores.

The offensive display electrified the Mall of America Field crowd, but it was a dominant and punishing defensive performance that constantly whipped the 63,000+ fans into a frenzy that Dallas’ offense couldn’t overcome. The Cowboys had 6 more offensive snaps and held the time of possession advantage, but it the Vikings defense always came up with the big play at the perfect time.

Dallas QB Tony Romo was harassed all day and was sacked 6 times. He was efficient – completing 22 of 35 passes – but the production wasn’t there (just 198 yards and 0 TDs) and he was under pressure or sacked on most dropbacks. LB Ben Leber intercepted Romo once and both DE Jared Allen and Ray Edwards registered strip-sacks.

We’ll have complete and comprehensive postgame coverage all afternoon and into tonight right here on vikings.com. So, stay tuned to vikings.com and the vikings.com Blog for most postgame thoughts and reaction.


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Brinkley Balances Vikings Defense Vs. Bengals

Posted by Mike Wobschall on December 14, 2009 – 2:14 pm

There are several hurdles to overcome when a team is forced to replace a starter, and the task becomes a little more difficult when the replacement is a 1st-time starter.

Such was the case for the Vikings on Sunday against Cincinnati. With middle LB E.J. Henderson lost for the season due to a broken leg, the Vikings turned to 5th round pick Jasper Brinkley to fill the role in the middle.

Adding another level of difficulty to the Vikings defensive challenge was the fact that the Bengals employ an unusual offensive mechanism that adds an extra responsibility to the middle LB’s job. On several occasions Sunday, the Bengals inserted into the lineup an extra offensive tackle, which created an unbalanced offensive formation in the run-heavy offensive attack.

As if replacing the heart and soul of the defense wasn’t hard enough already, Brinkley now had to deal with matching his teammates up against an odd formation while also positioning himself to replace the production Henderson provided on a weekly basis.

But when the dust settled and the clock said 00:00, the Vikings were on the right end of a 30-10 outcome. Vikings Head Coach Brad Childress said on Monday that Brinkley did a good job of handling the “mental gymnastics” and that the rookie LB also provided a physical presence on defense.

“He did a great job I thought in both against a very difficult group to play against just because of all the extra linemen that they had in the game,” Childress added. “You have to do some different things when people are unbalanced. First of all, it’s coming out of the huddle at you. It’s visual recognition and identification. They’re always attempting to deceive when they do that, and it has to happen very quickly where you’re setting the defense, getting people moved if they didn’t hear you, flipping people over, linebackers flipping sides, and then playing the game.”

Brinkley played primarily in the Vikings base package – in the 4-3 defensive alignment on most 1st and 2nd downs. He registered 3 tackles and contributed significantly to a defensive effort that held the Bengals to just 210 net yards.

“It’s a tough situation to come into,” said LB Ben Leber after the game. “Obviously, he was probably anxious and nervous. I thought he performed pretty well coming in and making the calls in base (defense), and going downhill and making some hits.”


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Looking Good And Looking To Get Healthy At The Bye

Posted by Mike Wobschall on November 3, 2009 – 10:39 am

The Vikings enter their bye week with a 7-1 record and fresh off an exciting win over Green Bay that improved their record in the NFC to 5-0 and in the NFC North to 3-0. As a result, the Vikings sit atop the division with a 2.5-game lead over both Chicago and Green Bay and also with tie-breaker priority over the Packers following a season sweep of the green and gold.

With all of that good news in mind, it’s also important to note that the bye week comes at a good time for the Vikings. They are half-way through the regular season, but when you add in a 4-week preseason, training camp, injuries and the high-profile nature of the team, you can see this Vikings team has been through a lot already in 2009.

“It’s the half way point of the season and for us I think it’s great to keep that in perspective,” Vikings Head Coach Brad Childress said. “It is probably good to have the latest bye in the League here. You don’t hear many coaches say that it doesn’t come at a good time. It does come at a good time just from the standpoint that these guys have been going at it for a very long time with the four preseason games and two weeks of training camp.”

Although a key defensive player – Antoine Winfield – has missed the previous 2 games and the Vikings had 11 players on last week’s injury report, Childress said his team goes into the bye pretty healthy and will benefit from the week off.

“We are reasonably healthy,” the head coach said. “Individuals can get healthier. We have a handful of guys that will be staying here and trying to get healthiest this week.”

Aside from Winfield, players such as WR Bernard Berrian (hamstring), QB Brett Favre and LBs E.J. Henderson (knee) and Ben Leber (calf) will certainly benefit from an extra week of rest.

As for players who’ve managed to stay off the injury report, they too need the break to freshen their bodies and their minds for the 2nd half of the regular season and hopefully a playoff push.

“Whether they are going to sit in a deer stand or sit on the beach or contemplate their navel, whatever it is that they care to do, they are free to do as long as they are back here on Monday,” Childress explained. “It’s really a good group of guys. They have tremendous chemistry together. They play for each other. They play with each other. It’s a different, varied group of guys as all you guys know that are in the locker room every day.

“It’s a joy to come to work with these guys every day, and even though they need a time off, I know when time is up they will be anxious to get back and get on with it.”


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Community Tuesday

Posted by Mike Wobschall on October 27, 2009 – 10:06 am

I’m heading out to a Vikings community event in a few minutes, so we probably won’t have another blog entry until early this afternoon.

Today, LB Ben Leber and his wife, Abby, along with teammates S Husain Abdullah, TE Jeff Dugan, S Eric Frampton, DT Jimmy Kennedy, FB Fahu Tahi, Viktor the Viking, and other members of the Vikings Women’s Organization, will help brighten the day for kids at the University of Minnesota Amplatz Children’s Hospital.

The Lebers have volunteered lots of their time over the past couple of years at the Children’s Hospital.

These visits are made in conjunction with the Vikings Children’s Fund (VCF). Since its inception in 1978, the VCF has donated nearly $5 million to the University of Minnesota Department of Pediatrics to support research fighting childhood diseases and community outreach through the Vikings Tackling Influenza program.

I’ll be back later this afternoon with more updates here on the vikings.com Blog.


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